Photography: Aaron Schwartz
How growing up as an ‘outsider’ in a Swiss ski town has shaped Nicholas Wolken into an avid backcountry snowboarder, ultimately leading to the start of Korua Shapes.
Nicholas, what’s up man, how is it going?
Pretty good, have been resting for the past few days. We’re getting an early start to winter over here (Switzerland).
Always nice to get some early season powder! How is business?
All the trade shows have been canceled but it has given us some more time to get out there and ride, can’t complain about that.
No complaints with that for sure. How has the covid experience been for you and your company?
On one hand we have Switzerland, where Korua is based, and then we have our operations and distribution out of Germany. Both have been handling the crisis quite differently. Germany is pretty strict, it closed all of its resorts from the start. Switzerland has been pretty lenient, actually. So as far as snowboarding goes, it’s pretty much the same here, not a lot of change.
Speaking of which, any backcountry riding as of recent?
We have been splitboarding more, you know, to get away from the people and crowds at resorts. Being out on our own, that’s been really fun. Even if it's for a few hours, we ride and try to forget about the current situation.
I remember watching “Rain Dogs” at the end of 2020, was that filmed during the pandemic?
Not exactly. At that time, all I knew was that there was a virus in China. When we got back, we had a split boarding camp in a hut above Ischgl, with a few covid measures in place. After our trip we were all pretty beat, and on our way back we were talking about having a beer in one of the many apres bars, later finding out that it was a good call to pass on that. That’s when it hit me for sure, luckily none of us got it.
Yeah, it hit the whole world like a train. Since we’re talking about Korua, can you tell us about your origins and how Korua came to be.
So I was born in Switzerland, my dad is American and my mom is Australian. Both of them were traveling around Europe and kind of got stuck in Küblis, a small town near Davos, one of the bigger ski areas around here. My dad worked on the mountain, in one of the ski service huts, so I just joined him up there and would be in ski school all day from a young age. I really enjoyed it, skiing was part of our town’s culture, every kid did it. There was a racing team and everything, but I just sort of felt like an outsider.
So i’m guessing this is where snowboarding comes into the story?
Yeah, so at the shop my dad worked at, there was this unique snowboard with a fish shape. It had zero flex and made with fiberglass, but I was really drawn to the color and the shape of it. I remember seeing posters and advertisements of somebody doing a laydown carve, it was Peter Bauer or one of those old school legends. I eventually started snowboarding at nine years old, and I fell in love with it. Have been doing it since.
It definitely helps to have some of the world’s best conditions in your backyard. How is the snowboarding culture in Switzerland?
I love the variety in different types of snowboarding and snowboards. Like I started out racing, but also had friends in freestyle, which gave me exposure to some of the most talented riders out there. I was never super talented, I think I had some talent, but these guys definitely pushed me to be better.
So then at what point did you begin to think about Korua, it is somewhat recent if i'm not mistaken, right?
2014 is when we kind of launched the brand, and most of the ideas came together a year before that. Leading up to this, though, I was always free riding and enjoying the video projects in that process, but yeah at some point I got a little burnt out on that. I had a lot of time and dedication but I felt like I wasn’t a part of that scene anymore. We then did a few trips to Japan and I sort of stumbled upon the whole snow/surf movement over there. That’s what inspired me really, the guys out there were drawing unique turns, just having fun with it.
That’s the beauty of surfing and snowboarding, everybody has their own style. Competitive riding has always focused on airs and tricks, but the most unique guys have always been the ones to ride the mountain with style.
Yeah I felt like that was something that the general public would appreciate. The hard-boot racers were always part of this no-go zone in snowboarding, and you still get that to this day.
So after Japan, did you just get started on new shapes right away?
Pretty much, but I also want to mention that this wasn’t just my journey. I had some great friends like Stephan Maurer, who had just recently quit his professional career and worked on the Korua project just as much. Also, there is Jerry Niedermeier and Aaron Schwartz, who both played a big part in what Korua is now.
Definitely understand the teamwork behind it, you guys are doing it right. How big are the operations of Korua now? Also, why the name Korua?
It’s kind of hard to say because not everybody works in the summers, winter is the busiest time obviously. We have three main people in Germany, with Aaron and I involved full time, also some part-timers. In regards to the name, my friends had a brand for neck warmers back in the day. Korua was one of the names they came up with. When we were planning out our name, we decided on Korua out of a list of 200+. It sounds like an island you go surfing at, and I think in Maori it means “you the people.” So positive things throughout it all.
There is a certain charm to it. You guys also have a great aesthetic for media and content, what was the creative process behind that?
It definitely has evolved over time, especially with the help of Aaron Schwartz, who made it more than the initial concept. In the early stages of the brand, the black and white color concept was already implemented in our first movie, and we have stuck with it since. I think the black and white colors look cleaner and nicer. Yeah, it’s kind of a team effort, we have a lot of help and consistency with the people who edit and shoot with us.
Well all together it’s looking great man! Lastly, what are your thoughts on “staying true to the roots?” What does that mean for you?
I think it’s a never ending process, of finding what makes you feel good and being honest with yourself. You see things that you admire and try them out, even if it’s not one-hundred percent you. Looking back at it, going through the park and jumping down staircases was something I really enjoyed and needed at that time, but it turned into something I was doing for my ego, to prove something to myself and others, not one-hundred percent for the pure joy of it. I feel like now I am closer, but still got ways to go.